Saturday, October 28, 2006

Guiding Principles
Yet Sullivan has continued to think of himself as a conservative. And he has been forced to ask himself the question that many conservatives have been forced to ask themselves: If I am a conservative, and I detest many of the things this conservative administration is doing, then what kind of conservative am I and what kind of conservatives are they?

Â?The Conservative SoulÂ? is SullivanÂ?s answer to that question. His book is important, not only because he is willing to re-examine his own views relentlessly, but also because this is a moment when conservatism is in tumult, with old alliances breaking down, new divisions widening into chasms.

So writes David Brooks in the NYTimes. He's reviewed Andrew Sullivan's
The Conservative Soul - an important polemic that argues how today's ruling conservatives have abandoned core principles in pursuit of power. His book is to reassert those core principles and detail what true conservatism means - while showing how far some conservatives have drifted.

Sullivan's book, and Brooks' response is important to read for its own sake - the debate between these two thoughtful conservatives is an indication of how much some conservatives value the philosophical underpinnings of the ideology. I think most non-conservatives think the wellspring of conservatism emanates from Rush, Hannity, and Ann Coulter. That these people are the founding fathers of the movement and stake out its guiding principles. Sullivan's book and Brooks' review provides an understanding for conservatives and non-conservatives alike that's there's more to conservative thought than is generally revealed in our superficial public political discourse. The rich philosophy of conservatism extends back centuries and has roots in the writings of maeminentant minds of the Enlightenment. A true conservative knowledgeableble of this philosophical tradition - or should be.

On the otherhand, I wonder if today's garden variety liberal has any cognizance of their ideology's philosophical roots? It interests me to know what motivates a person - from a philosophical foundation - to choose liberalism as a guiding approach to values and politics. I've never seen liberals discuss their philosophical foundations (much less debate them with other liberals) anywhere near the same degree as conservatives. I just don't get the sense that liberals (those that I know) have any awareness of the philosophical roots of their chosen ideology. Of liberals that I know, I don't think they'd be able to name for me the people that have contributed to the formulation of the liberal philosophical tradition. Given this, I can only believe that someone arrives at liberalism simply because of a belief in the oft-repeated "It's okay as long as it doesn't hurt anybody." mantra - and that this is good enough for them. That's as deep as it gets I guess!

The depth philosophicalcal debate within conservative circles and the dearth of philosophical debate within liberal circles is glaring. The knuckleheads in Media that guide our national conversation cover up for liberals' philosophical deficiencies. All too often a conservative spends ridiculous amounts of time trying to explain the things they advocate (many times painfully outlining the guiding conservative philosophies that support these arguments), whereas the liberal rebuts with the simplistic "Somebody will get hurt if we do this!. There is not one issue out their that our Media fails to portray in this manner.

One would have to ask why someone would choose to be a conservative when its so much easier to be a liberal. It's so much easier to choose Anything Goes So Long as Nobody Gets Hurt than it is to choose a philosophy of limits. I'd love to hear about the philosophical tradition that supports this guiding liberal mantra, but I haven't heard it yet and I suspect that it doesn't exist. Conservatives will continue to debate with each other on what it means to be a conservative. The conversation between Brooks and Sullivan reveals this. Anyone wanting to delve deeper into understanding the philosophy of conservatism will do well to read both Brooks and Sullivan. As for understanding the philosophy of liberalism, I don't think you'll get far even if you ask a liberal. There's just not a lot there.


At 10:07 AM, Blogger Kreblog said...

What's the point of either party having a philosophy/ideology when in the end they get nothing done... or worse take all their time arguing over "low hanging fruit" like flag burning while health insurance eats more and more of our paychecks at ridiculous rates.

I say it is time for both parties to stop talking philosophies, roll up their sleeves, and start doing something meaningful.

At 11:01 AM, Blogger Granite said...

I disagree. Philosophy as I mean it is quite different from ideology. Far too many of our politicians today are ideologues before they are philosophers. To illustrait this using your flag burning example, if Republicans were truly adherants to a philosophy of limited government, they would not be supportive of amendment efforts to ban flag-burning. Obviously, big-government Republican ideology has been chosen over small-government conservative philosophy. What's truly unfortunate for conservative philosophy is that it has become conflated with big-government Republican ideology. The two are not synonomous, yet have been made so by careless (perhaps calculated) efforts on the part of our Major Media news paraphrasers. Its this conflation of the two that has convinced some conservatives that they need to separate conservative philosophy from Republican ideology in order to save and preserve conservatism. That's really what Andrew Sullivan is trying to do. He's trying to save conservatism (so it can live another day) while dooming big-government Republicanism (which he considers not to be conservative at all).

Because of my political bias I am more keenly aware of these splits on the right between philosophy and ideology. My point of the post was to question whether the Left has the same thing going on. What is the Left philosophy and is it being given proper voice through the practice of Left ideology? I guess the closest thing that comes to this has to do with the so called "Progressive" movement within the Democrat party. I understand Progressive policies, but I don't know if there is a true philosophy behind them other than what I identify as "good so long as it doesn't hurt others". Perhaps I'm not giving enough credit, but I just don't see what philosophical drives the Left these days. It seems to be more reactionary anti-Right than anything else, which of course is not a philosophy but simply a bigotry in practice. But that's another debate.

At 7:41 AM, Anonymous Officer Fuhrman said...

What exactly is your definition of 'liberal'?

from Wikipedia:

'Liberalism is an ideology, philosophical view, and political tradition which holds that liberty is the primary political value. Liberalism has its roots in the Western Age of Enlightenment, but the term has taken on different meanings in different time periods (there exists a large difference between classical liberalism and modern liberalism).

Broadly speaking, liberalism emphasizes individual rights. It seeks a society characterized by freedom of thought for individuals, limitations on power, especially of government and religion, the rule of law, the free exchange of ideas, a market economy that supports relatively free private enterprise, and a transparent system of government in which the rights of all citizens are protected. In modern society, liberals favor a liberal democracy with open and fair elections, where all citizens have equal rights by law and an equal opportunity to succeed.'

versus conservatism:

'Conservatism is a political philosophy that generally favors free markets, traditional values and strong foreign defense. The term derives from to conserve; from Latin conserv?re, "to keep, guard, observe". Since different cultures have different established values, conservatives in different cultures have different goals. Some conservatives seek to preserve the status quo, while others seek to return to the values of an earlier time, the status quo ante.

Samuel Francis defined authentic conservatism as “the survival and enhancement of a particular people and its institutionalized cultural expressions.” Roger Scruton calls it “maintenance of the social ecology” and “the politics of delay, the purpose of which is to maintain in being, for as long as possible, the life and health of a social organism.”'

Clearly this means conservatives think the world is in good order as it stands, and liberals realize it's a hellhole that needs some serious revolution. How can you advocate conservatism?


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